I have recently been writing about my middle son. My son who died at a unbelievable two weeks old. We are nearing his birthday and anniversary and my thoughts turn to him as inevitably as the moon pulls the tide.
I don’t write about him all the time. Some newly made friends have only recently been introduced to his story. It’s been nearly three years since we said good-bye, but the shock of a baby dying was new and fresh to them.
They reached out with beautifully supportive messages and emails. I saw a theme: a certain shame about their own mixed reactions to mothering. A feeling that they should hold onto gratitude above all else and not express boredom or dismay or frustration or jealousy or the jumble of emotions that come with motherhood.
My perspective has changed. My life shattered when I said good-bye to my son and I had to carefully collect those pieces and patch them back together. I have changed.
But motherhood hasn’t.
My kids still push me to the brink. I still yell and then wish I hadn’t. I still yearn for sleep-ins and lazy days to myself. I don’t live in the moment enough. I don’t play with them enough. Singing row row your boat for the tenth time still bores me. I get frustrated when my son takes forever to get through his school reader. I worry that I am not immersing myself fully in the joy of early childhood. I get upset when a carefully planned family activity is derailed by whinging kids. Sometimes my two year old spilling his cereal for the fifth time is enough to make me cry. And I question these reactions all the time – surely, knowing what I know, I should be above it all.
I wish I could say that I turned into a calm, serene mother. That I became so aware of the preciousness of my children that it over-rode every single other emotion. That didn’t happen. I don’t think life is like that. Instagram may show us a steady stream of perfect moments, but that’s not life. Life is messy, difficult, amazing and beautiful. It is a kaleidoscope of jostling emotions.
In the weeks following Xavier’s death, I would have a visceral reaction when people would complain about their children. I would want to scream, “How dare you!”. But that lessened. Those people didn’t love their kids any less than I did mine. They were just living and trying to cope with demands of children. They were just as grateful for their babies as I was mine. They were just having a bad day and needed to vent. I don’t think any of them were blind to their blessings. Their perspective in that particular moment was vastly different to my own.
When terrible things happen, we count our blessings more closely. When you learn of a tragedy, you hold your own dear ones tightly. When that tragedy strikes your own door, you struggle to make sense of it and you cling to those around you. I remember holding my eldest so closely in the wake of his brother’s death. I would embrace him and try to hold him enough for both of them. I would whisper fiercely that I would never let anything happen to him and I would try to convince myself I had that power.
As a bereaved mother, I might hold my kids a little tighter and I might worry about them a little more. But I still have days when being a mother is overwhelming and difficult. I can be incredibly grateful for my children and frustrated by them at the same time. My heart can overflow with love and still have room for all the other emotions that motherhood brings with it. I am a grateful mother. I am a human mother. And all that goes with it.